Common cold treatments
Nothing will cure a cold but treatments can help to relieve some of the unpleasant symptoms.
One symptom of the common cold is nasal congestion. Nasal decongestants constrict the blood vessels in the nose and reduce the flow of plasma from the blood through to the nose, where it causes congestion.
Topical (or nasal) decongestants
Topical decongestants, which come in the form of a nasal spray, include oxymetazoline and xylometazoline. There are numerous brands available containing one of these ingredients. They must not be used for longer than 5 days, as rebound congestion can occur through extended use of topical decongestants.
Decongestant tablets, which include pseudoephedrine, help to dry up a runny nose, but can cause restlessness and insomnia, particularly in children.
You should avoid these products if you have high blood pressure, heart problems, hyperthyroidism, diabetes or urinary retention. You should also avoid them if you play sport at national or international level. If combined with antihistamines, e.g. day and night formulas, you should take care if drinking or driving.
Inhalations may also help to relieve congestion. These include volatile oils such as menthol and camphor, and steam inhalation products. You should, however, avoid using oils with steam in very young children.
You should be careful that any combination products for children under 12 do not contain aspirin. There are different types of combination products available.
- Decongestant and paracetamol or ibuprofen is a useful combination if you have a mild fever and some aches and pains and require a decongestant, but it is important that you do not take excessive doses of paracetamol.
- Decongestant and paracetamol and cough suppressant is a useful combination if you also have a dry cough. However, products containing codeine should be used with caution, as it can cause constipation and also has drug abuse potential.
- Decongestant and paracetamol and antihistamine is a useful combination if you also have a runny nose. You should avoid driving, and drinking alcohol, if taking this combination.
- Decongestant and paracetamol and antihistamine and cough suppressant combinations are included in many of the day and night products available from your pharmacy.
- Decongestant and antihistamine combinations are included in several products for children in the form of syrup, elixir or chewable tablets.
Supplements that may also help in reducing the severity of a cold include: garlic extract; vitamin C plus bioflavonoids; echinacea plus vitamin C; betacarotene; and zinc.
Last Reviewed: 28 May 2002